Credit score FICO improvementFor home buyers in Richmond and nationwide, credit scores can change low mortgage rates and alter home loan approvals.

Borrowers with high credit scores get access to lower mortgage rates, for example, and can find the mortgage approval process to be more smooth that borrowers with low credit scores.

If your credit score is low, here are some basic ways to help improve it. 

Get The Reports
Download an updated version of your credit report from each of the three major reporting bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. The reports may mirror each other, but credit accounts — especially derogatory ones — sometimes don’t appear on all three. Ordering reports from all three bureaus is a safety step. Note that the credit bureaus each use different scoring models so your credit scores will vary.

Check For Errors
Yes, credit reports can have errors in them. Should you find any items on any of the three credit reports which, in your opinion, do not belong or are erroneous, contact the credit bureau regarding removal. Errors on a credit report must be addressed with each bureau individually. 

Pay Up 
Or, rather, pay down. Be diligent about paying down your credit card balances in order to lower the percentage of your credit line(s) in use. In general, aim for a 30% ratio or less. An added benefit of paying down debt is that it can lower your total monthly debt load, which can increase your maximum home purchase price.

For items which are harming your score, such as a 30-day or 60-day mortgage late payments, medical collection items, and/or judgments, consider writing a brief letter which explains the circumstance of the derogatory credit event. Such a letter won’t help your score to improve, but it can help your lender to make better credit decisions, which can aid in “exceptions”, if required.

Making even minor changes to an overall credit profile can yield measurable long-term results. It can also result in lower mortgage rates.

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The U.S. housing market recovery is underway. New home sales are at a multi-year high, housing starts are at pre-recession levels, and home builders plan for a strong 2013.

Since late-2011, falling mortgage rates have boosted buyer purchasing power. Now, today, in many U.S. markets, the number of active home buyers outnumbers the number of active home sellers. It’s among the reasons why home supplies remain scarce and why home prices are rising.

Roughly 20 percent of today’s home buyers purchase homes with cash. For everyone else, the ability to gain mortgage approval depends on income, assets, and, most importantly, credit scores. Your credit score is a predictor of your future payment performance and lenders pay close attention. 

If you plan to buy a home in Henrico or anywhere else in the next 12 months, spend some time with this The Today Show interview. It’s five minutes of practical credit scoring advice, including separation of credit score myth from credit score fact.

Among the credit scoring tips shared :

  • How to get your credit checked without harming your credit score
  • The value of using automatic payments with credit cards
  • How to use “old” credit cards to boost your credit score

You’ll also learn about utility companies and why you should never be late with payment.

As compared to August 2011, last month’s average, mortgage-financing home buyer’s FICO score improved 9 points to 750. The average “denied” mortgage applicant’s FICO score was 704. Clearly, standards are high. However, credit scoring is a system and, with time, you can improve your rating. 

Watch the interview and find ways to make your credit score better. With better credit comes better mortgage rates.

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FICO recipeFor today’s home buyers and refinancing households, the value of “good credit” has never been higher.

Mortgage approvals hinge on your FICO score, as does your final mortgage pricing.

If you’re shopping for a home in Virginia , therefore, or contemplating a refinance, be aware of how everyday credit behaviors can affect your FICO. Even small events can make a big impact.

Here are some common-sense steps to help improve your credit score.

First, keep a “cushion” on your credit cards.

30 percent of your credit score is linked to “Amount Owed” and a big part of Amount Owed is a raw calculation of (1) What you owe in dollar terms, against (2) How much credit you have at your disposal. The credit bureaus want to see at least 70% of your credit “available”.

If you can keep your cards at least 70% available, your credit scores should improve.

For example, if all of your credit cards give you access to a combined $50,000 and you are using $10,000 of that available credit, you have 80% of your credit available to you and this is “good”.

Raise your balances to $30,000 and this is “bad”.

Second, don’t make major purchases on credit prior to making a mortgage application. This includes opening a store charge card to save 10 percent or more on a washer/dryer set, for example; or for any other appliance or furniture piece.

The reasons why are two-fold. One, store charge cards are often opened with a limit matching your initial charge, rendering them 100% utilized. This is bad for a FICO, as discussed above. And, two, opening a new charge cards has a negative FICO impact anyway.

Charge cards are associated with high default rates.

Third, make all of your monthly payments on time — even the ones in dispute. You may not want to pay that $80 wireless phone bill, for example; the one that you think you owe, but remember that Payment History accounts for 35% of your credit score. Even one late payment — or payment in collection — and your credit score can drop.

It’s often less expensive to pay a bill in dispute than to be relegated to a higher mortgage rate. The payment is dispute is remedied today. The payment on that mortgage rate lasts for 30 years.

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Credit scores play a huge role in today’s mortgage market — larger than at any time in recent history. Blame it on the high default rates of the last half-decade. Lenders are reserving their lowest rates for the customers most likely to make on-time repayments.

Mortgage rates are at an all-time low in Virginia. However, the low rates you see advertised on TV and online are only available to the home buyers and would-be refinancers whose credit scores are pristine. Having a high credit score is often the difference between getting “the best rates” from your lender, and getting something worse.

The first part of improving your credit score is understanding how it works. In this 5-minute piece from NBC’s The Today Show, you’ll learn the basics :

  • Why you shouldn’t close a credit card after you pay off a large debt
  • What is the maximize balance to leave on your credit cards, relative to your credit limit
  • What types of credit checks harm your credit scores, and which ones don’t

You’ll also learn how to shop for a mortgage with multiple lenders without having your credit score “dinged”, as well as several proven methods to raise your credit score quickly.

In the end, good credit scores are the result of paying bills on time and staying with your means. Those with the best scores, get the best rates.

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FOMC senior loan officer survey 2011 Q4

After a half-decade of tightening mortgage guidelines, banks are starting to “loosen up”.

The Federal Reserve conducts a quarterly survey of its member banks and, last quarter, not a single responding bank reported having tightened its mortgage guidelines for prime borrowers.

A “prime borrower” is defined as one with a well-documented credit history, high credit scores, and a low debt-to-income ratio.

53 banks responded to the Fed’s survey and none said that mortgage guidelines “tightened considerably” or “tightened somewhat” between September and December 2011; 50 said that guidelines remained “basicaly unchanged”; 3 said that guidelines “eased somewhat”.

Mortgage applicants sometimes remark that the mortgage approval process can be challenging. Last quarter’s Fed survey hints that looser standards are coming. 

Not since before the recession have banks lowered mortgage approval standards like this and it bodes well for this year’s Henrico  housing market. Real estate agents report that 1 in 3 home sale contracts fail with “declined mortgage applications” as a leading cause.

Looser mortgage lending standards should mean more home loan approvals for buyers, and fewer contract cancellations. This can spur the housing market forward.

Make note, though. “Looser standards” should not be confused with “irresponsible standards”. It remains more difficult to meet bank standards as compared to 5 years. Today’s underwriters are more conservative with respect to household income, overall assets and credit scores. 

Even as compared to one year ago:

  • Minimum credit score requirements are higher
  • Downpayment/equity requirements are larger
  • Maximum allowable debt-to-income ratios are lower

For buyers and refinancing households gaining approval, though, the reward is the lowest mortgage rates in a lifetime. Mortgage rates in Virginia continue to fall, helping home affordability reach new highs.

If you’re in the market to buy a new home or refinance one, your timing is excellent.

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FICO recipeWith Halloween behind us, retailers are in the Holiday Spirit. Businesses know that consumers spent a median $556 on holiday gifts last year and they want this year to be just as strong.

That’s why it’s barely November and, already, Black Friday ads clog our mailboxes and the airwaves. Retailers want our dollars and they’re offering great deals to early shoppers.

There’s one discount a smart shopper should think twice, however — the ever-present “Open A Charge Card Today And Save 15%” promotion. In the short-term, deals like this will save money. 

Over the long-term, however, opening a charge card could cost you much, much more — especially if you plan to refinance your home or buy a new one.

Applying for a charge card can lower your credit score up to 85 points.  

According to the myFICO.com website, as a category, “New Credit” accounts for 10% of your 850 possible credit points, comprising the following credit traits :

  • Your number of recently opened accounts
  • Your number of recent credit inquiries
  • Time elapsed since your recent credit inquiries
  • Your proportion of new accounts to all accounts

Each trait is a negative in the FICO-scoring credit algorithm which means that, with each in-store charge card application, your credit score is likely to fall. How far your score will fall depends on the rest of your credit profile.

Meanwhile, low FICO scores correlate to higher loan fees.

Using a real-life example, assuming 20% equity in a home, for either purchase or refinance, look how loan fees for a $200,000 conforming mortgage change by FICO score :

  • 740 FICO : There will be no added loan costs
  • 720 FICO : You’ll have a 0.250% increase in loan costs, or $500
  • 700 FICO : You’ll have a 0.750% increase in loan costs, or $1,500
  • 680 FICO : You’ll have a 1.500% increase in loan costs, or $3,000
  • 660 FICO : You’ll have a 2.500% increase in loan costs, or $5,000

You can see first-hand how expensive low credit score can be — much more costly than the 15% saved at the mall. That’s why people planning to refinance to today’s low rates and soon-to-be Henrico homeowners, shouldn’t rush to save 15% at the register. 

For people in want of a mortgage, high FICO scores are worth protecting.

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